Notre Dame vs. LSU: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-3).

WHAT? The merits of bowl games have been discussed at relative length in these parts, but when kickoff comes, one would hope competitive juices and instincts take over on the field. The Citrus Bowl will have only some of the country’s attention, as two other notable bowls start within the hour preceding it, but it is the marquee matchup of the day’s early slate.

WHEN? 1:00 p.m. ET. Or, right about when that feeling of New Year’s-shenanigans-induced nausea is beginning to abate.

WHERE? Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. Formerly known as the Citrus Bowl Stadium, where Notre Dame met Florida State in the 2011 Champ Sports Bowl.

This will be the final game of the season broadcast on ABC. It will presumably also be available on all Watch ESPN platforms.

WHY? Both Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron and Irish head coach Brian Kelly have spent the week in Orlando pointing to a distinct want to get to double-digit wins. Amid bowl activities including go-kart races, amusement park visits and community service events, focusing on a 10th victory has been a motivational point. With a national championship out of the short-term picture, a New Year’s Day victory is seen as a building block to that long-term pursuit.

“You go into every season, and there’s … 120-plus teams all coming for the same goal, and that’s to be one of those four teams [in the College Football Playoff],” Kelly said Sunday morning. “If you’re not able to get that, you’re still on the same mission after this game, and that is to keep working toward a national championship.

“In the meantime, it’s to play on a Jan. 1 bowl game … 10 wins is usually the mark in college football. Everybody is looking to get to double digits, so it would be a big accomplishment to get to 10.”

AN ED ORGERON COMPLIMENT WORTH NOTING: Orgeron was asked what stood out from watching film of Notre Dame this season. Orgeron has spent more than three decades in coaching, almost all of them with an emphasis on the defensive line. He has studied more opposing offensive line units than most of us have simply seen in any capacity in our lives.

“The left guard [senior Quenton Nelson] and left tackle [fifth-year Mike McGlinchey], I can’t keep my eyes off of them,” Orgeron said. “They’re the best combo I’ve ever been against. They’re not only good players, they’re really well-coached.

“Their combo blocks, I remember watching an opponent, they had a defensive tackle that we know very well, and he was nine yards off the ball.”

This will be McGlinchey’s last game with the Irish and almost certainly will/should be Nelson’s, as well.

MEANINGLESS STAT: In watching Iowa’s 27-20 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, a graphic touting the Hawkeyes’ recent bowl struggles was noticed. Before the victory over the Eagles, Iowa had lost its last five bowl games, dating back to a 31-14 defeat to Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl. Since then, Iowa lost to LSU, Tennessee, Stanford and Florida. In many respects, drawing any type of conclusion from that stretch would have been foolish. Those five games hold no ties to each other, and hardly a tie to the seasons preceding each of them. In all five, the Hawkeyes drew a tough matchup as dictated by factors well outside of their control.

The somewhat-similar streak critics point to relating to Notre Dame is how long it has been since the Irish won a “major” bowl game. Pretending there is some connection between a Jan. 2, 1995, loss to Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and a Jan. 1, 2016, loss to Ohio State in the same occasion is beyond comprehension and filled with logical failings.

The Citrus Bowl may be junior running back Josh Adams‘ last day in a Notre Dame uniform, but he has a ripe opportunity to leave his name atop the Irish record books before heading to the NFL. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

EQUALLY MEANINGLESS BUT MORE INTERESTING STAT: This same topic filled this exact space leading into the regular season finale at Stanford. … Irish junior running back Josh Adams sits 91 yards shy of breaking Vagas Ferguson’s single-season Notre Dame rushing record. Including yardage lost, Adams has 1,386 yards this season. Back in 1979, Ferguson gained 1,477. If arguing Ferguson needed only 11 games to reach that mark, a counterargument can be readily made by pointing out Adams has only 191 carries thus far this season. Ferguson had 301 rushing attempts in that record-setting season.

This may or may not be Adams’ last game with the Irish. Even if he returns in 2018, expecting a chance to break this record again would be rather ambitious.

BY HOW MUCH? This line has consistently favored LSU by three points with a combined point total over/under of 51.5. That math indicates a finish of Tigers 27, Irish 24. Considering LSU gave up an average of 18.8 points this season and never more than 24 points since the end of September, the low expected point totals are symptoms of LSU’s stout defense and an average offense (28.1 points per game, No. 71 in the country) unlikely to easily exploit Notre Dame’s vulnerable secondary.

LSU 24, Notre Dame 20. (8-4 record on the season.)
To use the parlance of bowl season, this scribe put 23 confidence points (out of a maximum of 40) on LSU in his two bowl pool entries. It may warrant noting those entries are in eighth (of 11) and ninth (of 10) with only six games remaining. For pride’s sake, let’s also mention it is not mathematically possible for those entries to finish in last. Whew. (Tough break, Edgar.)

INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Notre Dame adds a third OL commit in Luke Jones
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s offense filled with questions for the Citrus Bowl
And In That Corner … The No. 17 LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl
Friday at 4: On Notre Dame’s six-star recruits
Notre Dame’s coordinators on the Irish and Tigers rushing attacks
Notre Dame sends RB McIntosh home from Citrus Bowl
Notre Dame’s Opponents: 5-4 in bowls thus far with Georgia to go

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS & IS SERIES:
Coaching
— Quarterbacks 
Offensive Line
Defensive Backs
Running Backs
Tight Ends
Receivers
Special Teams
Linebackers
Defensive Line

OUTSIDE READING:
 My Journey, by Notre Dame receiver signee Braden Lenzy
OL Luke Jones commits to Notre Dame 
Mike Elko back at Notre Dame in 2018
LSU, Matt Canada likely to part ways after bowl game
St. Brown looking for a bowl win before making an NFL decision
A Q&A with Brian Kelly on getting Notre Dame back on track — “I have to have our football team playing its best football in November, and that was not the case this year.”

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At every step of his decade at Notre Dame, Tommy Rees provided stability otherwise lacking

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Rutgers v Notre Dame
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He was a three-star quarterback coming from a Chicago suburb with scholarship offers from only two other Power-Five programs. The head coach who recruited him had been fired.

And then Notre Dame needed the freshman quarterback to start against a top-15 team and try to redeem a sub-.500 season. Tommy Rees threw three touchdown passes to upset No. 15 Utah. He completed 13-of-20 passes to avoid any distinct mistakes, an immediate 180-degree turn from how the previous week ended with Rees filling in as an injury replacement. The Irish did not want to lean on him too much, hence only 129 passing yards, but he delivered.

“Everything in our game plan was you’ve got to run the football, we’ve got to be high-percentage in our throws and not put Tommy in too many positions where we could turn the ball over,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in November 2010. “I wasn’t going to put this game on Tommy Rees.”

Kelly would, in time, put many games on Tommy Rees. At the outset, though, he continued to rely on the Irish ground game to rattle off a four-game win streak and turn a 4-5 debut season into an 8-5 finish with resounding momentum. Notre Dame ran the ball 144 times in those four games compared to 106 pass dropbacks (sacks adjusted).

RELATED READING: 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated

Most memorably, the game-winning drive at USC featured five rushes and only two passes, taking a lead with just two minutes left to snag the first Irish win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 2000.

Kelly turned back to Danye Crist to start the 2011 season and quickly flipped to Rees after only a half. In 2012, Kelly called on Rees in the most critical of moments to steady freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Then when Golson was suspended for the 2013 season, Rees was again thrown into the chaos and dragged Notre Dame to a respectable season rather than one lost in all sorts of ways.

At every step of his playing career, Rees provided the Irish stability when it was otherwise absent. He would do that again these past six years as an assistant coach.

First, he showed up expecting to be the 10th assistant coach only for the NCAA to delay that implementation, forcing Rees to become a graduate assistant, both adding coursework to his workload and removing his ability to coach the Irish quarterbacks in practices.

Then he threaded the delicate needle of a midseason quarterback change in 2018 even though Notre Dame had not lost a game. Keeping both Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book engaged with the team and moving forward propelled the Irish to the College Football Playoff, a direct counter to the quarterback debacle that torpedoed the 2016 season. Doing that while under an abrasive offensive coordinator who has continued to burn his way out of subsequent coaching jobs makes the player relations that much more impressive.

When Chip Long was fired following the 2019 season, Rees took over the offense for a resounding — and decently unexpected — throttling of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.

Obviously, 2020 brought instability to everyone in every industry, including college football. Rees’s offense averaged 6.2 yards per play, the No. 4 most explosive offense of Kelly’s 11 years at Notre Dame.

In 2021, Rees worked with three quarterbacks to keep the Irish in Playoff contention. Again, his ability to prop up the psyche of the most important position in college football was the key to Notre Dame’s success, particularly as the head coach was apparently actively planning his exit from South Bend. Of course, Kelly’s abrupt departure gave Rees the biggest platform in his Irish career to buttress the program, to provide stability, to secure its future.

When Rees turned down Kelly’s LSU overtures — “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees told his offense — he eased Freeman’s first-year learning curve by magnitudes. The former defensive coordinator knew what offense would be run in 2022 and that he did not need to worry about it much. For the second consecutive Irish head coach’s maiden voyage, Rees led a late-season surge, potentially setting the tone for his first few seasons.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

In literally every one of his 10 years at Notre Dame, Rees navigated choppy waters.

He turned Ian Book into an NFL quarterback who could win a Super Bowl ring this weekend. He won eight games with Drew Pyne as his starter. Those may not be the accolades of a “quarterback whisperer,” but finding success with talent as questioned as he once was proved Rees’s bona fides enough that the greatest coach in college football history came calling.

Rees owed Notre Dame nothing.

That is not, “Rees no longer owed Notre Dame anything.” It is that he never did.

He played four strong seasons as a quarterback in undesirable situations at every turn. Whatever debt a player owes his school, Rees paid then.

There is no further loyalty or obligation owed to an alma mater. The expectation of one says more about those conjuring those expectations than anyone else.

Coaching for Nick Saban is a clear step forward in a young coach’s career, no matter what transfer quarterback has arrived in South Bend this winter.

For that matter, by recruiting Sam Hartman, Rees provided Notre Dame some stability for an 11th year, rather notable for someone who spent only a decade at the university.

RELATED READING: Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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Maybe Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey will be anomalies, but if they are precedent-setters, then Notre Dame may have snagged another unheralded but promising cornerback with the Saturday afternoon commitment of consensus three-star Leonard Moore (Round Rock High School; Texas).

Moore also holds scholarship offers from Oregon, TCU and Vanderbilt, to name a few. In total, he has offers from six schools in the Pac-12, three in the Big 12, two in the SEC and one in the ACC, an intriguing widespread array from someone not yet lighting recruiting rankings on fire.

At 6-foot-2, Moore should have the length to become a physical cornerback, one perhaps more in the mold of current Notre Dame fifth-year cornerback Cam Hart than the rising sophomore Morrison.

Moore’s highlight reel starts with a few interceptions, naturally, and a punt return. Pass breakups are not necessarily the most enthralling of film. But then he sheds a block to force a fumble and soon defends a back-shoulder throw with ease. Moore is clearly a playmaker, particularly given no level of Texas football should be scoffed at. He intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes in 2022 as a junior.

He readily anticipates routes and when needed funnels his man as the defensive design demands.

Moore runs track, as well, with decent 200-meter times in the low 23-second range.

The eighth commitment in the class of 2024, Moore is the second defensive back, joining consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati). While team recruiting rankings are thoroughly premature more than 10 months before anyone can officially sign, thoroughness demands mentioning that Notre Dame’s class is currently ranked No. 2 in the country behind only Georgia with 10 commitments.

RELATED READING: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

A cursory look at the depth chart suggests Moore could have an avenue to early playing time in South Bend. Hart likely will move on to the NFL after the 2023 season, a shoulder injury tipping the scales toward returning this offseason. Aside from him, the only cornerbacks with experience on the Irish roster are Morrison and Mickey and rising senior Clarence Lewis. Any of the four young cornerbacks that do make an impression in 2023 will effectively be on equal footing with Moore.

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.

Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Clemson v Notre Dame
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A lot of people go to college for seven years. For Tommy Rees, it has been 10 years at Notre Dame, so to speak.

Whether or not Rees leaves his alma mater this week, as multiple Thursday reports indicated Rees is the frontrunner to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, there is no bad choice in front of him. Either Rees returns as the Irish offensive coordinator for a fourth season, continues his pursuit of winning a national championship at Notre Dame after three postseason trips already in his career, or he learns under the best college football coach in history in a position that has springboarded coaches to greener pastures for about a decade now.

Irish fans may spend most of their falls criticizing Rees’s play calls, but he is clearly someone well-respected in the coaching community. Seen as a future coach when he was a player and then navigating multiple delicate quarterback situations at Notre Dame, this is not the first time Nick Saban has chased Rees. He reportedly did so following the 2019 season, when Rees had not even spent a day as an offensive coordinator.

Instead, Rees took over that gig in South Bend, losing to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff, albeit a more competitive showing than when Rees and the Irish fell to the Tide in the 2012 title game. Miami sought Rees in recent years, and whispers of vague NFL interest have popped up more offseasons than not.

If most of those people who go to college for seven years are called doctors, then Rees has put together a doctorate-level intellect evidenced by who wants to hire him. Alabama publicly sending a branded plane to South Bend to ferry Rees for a visit on Thursday underscored that reputation.

Set aside the forced references to “Tommy Boy” — though the similarities do go past the first name and to a Catholic university in the Midwest — and realize Rees will leave Notre Dame at some point, probably sooner than later.

Maybe he joins Saban this weekend. Alabama needs to navigate a first-year starter at quarterback next year in a conference that quickly seemed to catch up to the Tide last season, with both LSU and Tennessee staking claims as competitors with Georgia already clearly out in front and Mississippi in the mix. Competing with former Irish head coach Brian Kelly every year would make for juicy headlines, but what speaks louder to Rees’s credit is that this is the time Saban wants to snag him, when Alabama’s footing may be less secure than at any point since the ‘00s.

Maybe Rees returns to Notre Dame, teams with Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman to ready for three top-10 matchups in 2023, and gets the Irish into the College Football Playoff for a third time in six years with the only constant quite literally being Rees.

Oh, and both scenarios should come with plenty of money.

Rees has no bad choice in front of him. That is a credit to him, even if fans would rather lampoon him than step back and acknowledge the intricacies of playcalling.

If he heads to Alabama, the annual matchups with LSU will become delightful fodder from afar. His Notre Dame legacy will include “Call duo until you can’t speak,” his emphatic play call when he left the coaches’ booth early as the Irish upset Clemson this past November, and “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees’s declaration to the offensive players last December amid a week of tumult.

If he stays in South Bend, the next matchup with anyone in the SEC, most likely a 2023 bowl game, will drip with an on-field chance at validation. That legacy will include spurning college football’s best not once, but twice.

For a quarterback who lost his starting job at Notre Dame not once (2011 preseason), but twice (2012 preseason), some pride has been earned. Saban’s stamp of approval carries all the weight needed in college football to assure someone of their professional standing.

It may have taken a decade, but Rees can now know he belongs with the best, no matter what decision he makes this weekend.